A Better Balm – review of hand balms for rock climbers

Chalky hand

A rock climber’s hands can get some rough treatment.  Pushed and twisted into cracks, grazed on course rock, cut and ripped on edges, worn down until the finger tips split and dried out by chalk and the elements.  The results of this harsh treatment can be irritating and painful as well as impairing climbing performance.  To help climbers keep their hands in working condition manufacturers from major companies to people working out of their kitchen have produced balms for climbers’ hands that aim to moisturise, revitalise and help skin heal. Read more

Woolly Hats for Big Heads

Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.
Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.

One size does not always fit all.  My larger than average head means that I have quite a bit of trouble finding any hats that fit.  This can be a problem as a woolly hat is essential for keeping my head warm on cold, windy mountains (particularly as I increasingly have less hair to do this job).  I don’t think that I’m the only person in this situation as people keep coming to an earlier post of mine via Google searches for climbing helmets for people with bigger or extra large heads.  So, for those of us blessed with a generous cranium and a love of the mountains, here are my reviews of some of the woolly hats for hiking and climbing that I’ve found fit my head. Read more

Review of Rab’s Neostretch Gaiters

Rab’s new and award-winning NeoStretch Gaiters have great breathability and lots of clever touches, but a few simple design issues stop them from being perfect.

In the mudI’ve got mixed feelings about gaiters.  They’re brilliant for keeping snow and water out of your boots, but they can make for lower legs that are hot and damp with the sweat the gaiters haven’t allowed to escape.  This is a particular problem on those days in the mountains when it’s warm, but gaiters are still needed.  Even if rain isn’t forecast and the sun shines warmly, gaiters can be essential because of the risk of putting your foot into a bog or slipping when crossing a stream.  In Alpine conditions you can be toasted while on a sun-baked glacier and have to wear gaiters to cope with the snow on the peaks you’re going to climb.  Rab hold out the promise that their NeoStretch Gaiters will make life more comfortable in such situations by combining one of the new breed of highly breathable fabrics and Rab’s usual, excellent design work.  To see if this was true, I tried these gaiters out on walks in a snowy Lake District as well as warm weather and continuous, sometimes torrential, rain in Snowdonia. Read more

Wire in the Lakes – the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata

The UK’s first via ferrata is one of the Lake District’s biggest attractions but has also been one of its biggest sources of controversy in the last few years.  How might these controversies, and the quality of the climb, affect your decision to pay to climb this via ferrata?

The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.
The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.

It was probably inevitable that when it opened in 2007 the first via ferrata in the UK would attract some strong opinions.  The system of climbing a mountain using ladders, stemples and occasionally bridges, together with a metal cable to attach to so as to prevent a long fall, could be considered to be more at home in the Alps.  Vie ferrate have their origins in the Alps and they seem more at home among the cable cars and ski pulls that dot those mountains.  Yet a via ferrata had been constructed on Honister Crags to provide a way to climb from a little way above Honister Pass to just below the summit of Fleetwith Pike. Read more

Review of the new Beacon Climbing Centre

Earlier this week, with waves of rain sweeping over North Wales ruling outdoors rock climbing out, my fiancée and I decided to try the new Beacon Climbing Centre near Caernarfon.  We were impressed.

Tommy the bouldering elephant in the dedicated kids area at the new Beacon Climbing Centre.

The old Beacon Climbing Centre had been in the Marconi Building in Ceunant for some 18 years.  This was a reasonable climbing wall, but it was very out of the way, a bit rundown and in need of an update.  This old centre has now shut and the operation moved to a former TV studio on the Cibyn Industrial Estate near Caernarfon.  As the new location is just off the main A4086 road from Llanberis, the Beacon Climbing Centre is now brilliantly placed for climbers rained off the mountains and crags of Snowdonia National Park. Read more

Helmets for Big Heads

I’ve written an updated version of this post because there some helmets that will fit big heads have come onto the market since this original post was written.

My Big Head

Whether it’s due to excess brains or empty space, I have a larger than average head.   This makes it hard to find any headwear that fits.  Anything marked “one size fits all” does not seem to include me in the definition of “all”.  This might be only an annoyance if I were not a rock climber.  I need a helmet to protect my head from falling rocks, dropped bits of gear, impacts and banging my head against overhangs (which is a habit of mine).  If a helmet is to protect my head properly, then it has to fit properly.  Unfortunately, my big head means that the selection of helmets that will fit me is small.

Me wearing a Grivel Salamander XL helmet.

At a little over 62cm in circumference, my head is too big for Black Diamond’s popular Half Dome helmet as this has a maximum size of 61.5cm.  All helmets by Wild Country have a maximum size of 61cm.  Petzl’s Meteor III+ helmet and Elios helmet both have a maximum size of 61cm.  This is also the maximum size of Mammut’s Skywalker 2 helmet.

A quick internet search shows that I’m not the only climber whose head is bigger than 61cm in circumference and so I have written the following helmet guide for those with generous heads. Read more